Entire US fleet of F-35s grounded for engine inspections

Clay Curtis
October 11, 2018

The Pentagon said in a statement Thursday that the USA military and its global partners, which have also purchased F-35 fighter jets from contractor Lockheed Martin, would be suspending flight operations to inspect the fuel tubes out of caution.

As a result of an initial investigation, the 245 F-35s being used in the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will be grounded in an operational pause so inspections can be carried out to see if "a suspect fuel tube" in the plane's engine has been installed.

The stand down affects more than 200 jets while an "inspection of a fuel tube" in F-35 engines takes place, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

"If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status", DellaVedova said.

"At this time, the cause of the mishap has not yet been determined", said Capt. Christopher Harrison, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman.

The F-35 Joint Program Office has said safety is a top priority.

Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 program is considered the most expensive weapons system in USA history, with an estimated cost of some $400 billion and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years.

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Inspections were expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

"We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernise the F-35 for the warfighter and our defence partners". Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, raised questions on the troubles still facing the F-35 program and its readiness rate of about 65 percent. John Pendleton, an official for the federal watchdog agency Government Accountability Office, said there hasn't been enough focus within the Air Force on sustaining the F-35, instead of focusing on production.

According to the Marine Corps Times, "investigators. suspect there is a widespread problem with the advanced fighter's fuel tubes".

The temporary suspension of all F-35 flights is an embarrassment given the extraordinary cost of this frequently troubled programme.

The plane, manufactured by Lockheed Martin but including parts made in several other countries, has been sold to a number of nations, including the UK, Japan, Italy, Turkey and South Korea. If the aircraft has those particular tubes, they will be replaced.

On Wednesday, Defense News reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had ordered the Air Force and Navy to make 80 percent of the fleet of key fighters, including the F-35, mission capable within a year. It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems.

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